Tracey Emin (Born 1963)
Tracey Emin's art is one of disclosure, using her life events as inspiration for works ranging from painting, drawing, video and installation, to photography, needlework and sculpture. Tracey Emin reveals her hopes, humiliations, failures and successes in candid and, at times, excoriating work that is frequently both tragic and humorous.
Tracey Emin's work has an immediacy and often sexually provocative attitude that firmly locates her oeuvre within the tradition of feminist discourse. By re-appropriating conventional handicraft techniques - or 'women's work' - for radical intentions.
Tracey Emin's work resonates with the feminist tenets of the 'personal as political'. In 'Everyone I've Ever Slept With', Tracey Emin used the process of appliqué to inscribe the names of lovers, friends and family within a small tent, into which the viewer had to crawl inside, becoming both voyeur and confidante. Tracey Emin's interest in the work of Edvard Munch and Egon Schiele particularly inform Tracey Emin's paintings, monoprints and drawings, which explore complex personal states and ideas of self-representation through manifestly expressionist styles and themes.
The often recounted story of how Tracey Emin came to be Britain's most famous living artist reads like a classic Dickensian tale of rags to riches, but with plenty of fresh twists. Tracey Emin was born in London in 1963 to an English mother and an errant Turkish Cypriot father, who kept a second home for his wife and other children. Tracey Emin grew up in Margate and has described her early years in the hotel run by her parents as idyllic, but says it all went wrong when her father walked out and the hotel went bust. Tracey Emin was raped when she was 13 and afterwards became a promiscuous teenager. Not surprisingly, her education suffered and Tracey Emin left school with no O-levels. But - and this is an achievement rarely acknowledged by her detractors - Tracey Emin joined a fine art course at Maidstone College and graduated in 1986 with a first-class degree. Tracey Emin followed this with an MA in painting at the Royal College of Art (RCA).
Tracey Emin's first Lithograph was published in 1986; Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Sixty a day Women'.
The establishment environment at the RCA appears to have sapped Tracey Emin's creative urge and she gave up making art for the next four years. But in 1993, after an exchange of letters with the dealer Jay Jopling, she was invited to exhibit at White Cube, his tiny gallery in St James's. Tracey Emin called the show "My Major Retrospective" because Tracey Emin thought she would never have a chance to exhibit again. Instead, it turned out to be a new beginning. Visitors and more enlightened critics saw something original in Tracey Emin's framed autobiographical writings and mementoes (including a crumpled fag packet prised from the hand of her Uncle Colin after he was killed in a car crash) and Tracey Emin gathered a modest circle of admirers.
However, it wasn't until Tracey Emin's tent, 'Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-95', was exhibited at the Royal Academy's "Sensation" in 1997 that her reputation reached out further. What I think attracted visitors was not just the romance and nostalgia of the subject matter (the sleeping partners listed included friends and family as well as sexual conquests), but the fact that here was an artist who managed to convey her story in a way which is honest and direct, as well as beautiful and touching. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'My beautiful Legs 2', a silk screen print was published at this time. As well as the etching; Tracey Emin, print, signed 'The Last Great Action'. Followed in 1998 by; Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Fighting for Love'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'It's What I'd Like to Be'. And the screen print; Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Every Bodies Been There'. In 2000 another silkscreen print was published; Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Dog Brains'. And in 2001; Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Tattoo'.
The same directness, this time used to express a more painful experience, attracted even bigger crowds when 'My Bed' - a sordid recreation of the site of a three-day breakdown - was exhibited (and desecrated) at Tate Britain in 2001 as part of Tracey Emin's bid for the Turner Prize. Tracey Emin may not have won the prize, but what she gained was the kind of mass public recognition unprecedented for an artist. And with this came the power that meant Tracey Emin was able to negotiate the sale of My Bed to Charles Saatchi for a reported £150,000.
Its sale seems to have marked the beginning of an uglier and more vituperative critical response to her work. After all the praise, there was an expectation that the angry young woman would grow up and become the discreet person the cultural establishment demands. The trouble with Tracey Emin is that she refused to play the game. Tracey Emin carried on swearing on live TV, accused critics of earning money off her back, and worse, continued to reveal the abject details of her past and present life in her art, with; Tracey Emin, print, signed 'When I Think'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'More Margate-More Past'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'And Then You Left Me'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Suffer Love'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Suffer Love II'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Sometimes I Feel Lonely But It's Ok'.
It is the brutally direct way in which Tracey Emin communicates these details and opinions in her work that upsets so many of the male critics. It's just not done to exhibit drawings of yourself scribbled with the words "Fuck me like a man" or neon lights spelling out "My cunt is wet with fear", and even less to discuss your two abortions. 2009 etchings; Tracey Emin, print, signed 'A Cunt is a Rose is a Cunt'. And; Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Rat Black Sperm'.
Less explicit nudes include the 2006 etching of Kate Moss; Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Kate'. And 2008 etching; Tracey Emin, print, signed 'But Yea'.
Some have questioned whether such apparent unmediated outpourings can constitute art. And yet there is so clearly artistry involved. Apart from the obvious handiwork, there's the crucial defining feature of an artwork: that it should not only represent life, but reveal something about it, too. Tracey Emin's work may not do this for many of the men or metropolitan elite who despise it so much, that it articulates feelings for others in a way unique in fine art.
As Waldemar Januszczak, one of the few critics to offer support has written: "It's a voice that has never been heard in art before, because the Professor Higginses who run the art world have never allowed it into art before."
Of all Tracey Emin's perceived offences though, it is her unashamed ambition and obvious delight in her fame and financial success which rankle with her critics most. In British cultural life it is considered vulgar to talk about yourself, still less to show off your wealth. Even though the reality of the starving artist in the garret is now rarely true, it is a fiction that people like to be kept up. Instead, Tracey Emin is the living embodiment of the Thatcher dream: she got off her backside and made something of herself. Some self portraits include; Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Self Portrait as a Small Bird'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Insane Reflection'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Tracey X Tracey'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Little Owl-Self Portrait'. The Owl motif is also appears in; Tracey Emin, print, signed 'You Said What'. Animal motifs also appear in; Tracey Emin, print, signed 'No Substitute for Your Love'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Space Monkey-We Have Lift Off'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'It's What I'd Like To be'.
As a result, Tracey Emin has a smart house in Spitalfields and enough money never to work again. For working-class kids Tracey Emin's example makes becoming an artist an aspiration on a par with becoming a footballer, which is not something the world of high culture, likes to think about.
Still, that won't bother Tracey Emin. Last week's recognition by the Tate will probably just confirm the opinion she so eloquently conveyed in a self-portrait of 2000, in which Tracey Emin is shown bundling wads of banknotes up her crotch. The title? 'I've Got It All'.
Tracey Emin's latest exhibition is at the Royal Academy of Art 'Walking with Tears' and exhibits her skills as a printmaker. Tracey Emin quotes "I've always had a love of printmaking because of the magic and alchemy of it all. You never really know how it's going to be until you turn the paper over. I think that printmaking is a very intimate practice. These works vary in subject matter but all of them retain a quality of my line".
Monoprint drawing and printmaking, and in particular etching, have been an important part of Tracey Emin's creative output since the beginning of her life as an artist. Indeed, Tracey Emin's works on paper form the backbone of the intimate and diaristic approach to her art. The immediacy of the line lends itself to the outpouring of dreams, memories and fantasies. Tracey Emin's work is characterised by an honesty and directness that is often made poignant by her use of humour, using both image and text, and these qualities are especially vivid in Tracey Emin's works on paper. Tracey Emin's assured and rapid line drawings are perfectly suited to her preferred mediums, the soft ground etching and the monoprint, as both techniques produce the lightly textured, broken quality of line so strongly associated with Tracey Emin. As seen in; Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Brocken Heart'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Broken Heart'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Docket Loves Birds'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Dockets Bird Collection'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Sam and Jay's Birds'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'See How They Grow'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Little Family'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Layed Back'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Illustrations from Memory 1994'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Totally Mad'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Always Being Mum'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Bleeding'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Hades Hades Hades'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'For Joseph Samuels 1981'.
Although Tracey Emin has returned to printmaking throughout her career, this is the first time she has presented an exhibition comprised exclusively of this medium, and features a selection of work from the past sixteen years, starting in 1994. The imagery ranges from explicit nudes to little birds and squirrels, motifs often interpreted as self-portraits. Tracey Emin continues to explore the medium with great intensity, and it is here where her imagery expresses itself in its most immediate form. As expressed in a series of prints published for the exhibition; Tracey Emin, print, signed 'At Night'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Mother/Brother'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'No Time'. Tracey Emin, print, signed 'Sleep Again'.